Will it be cloudy on my birthday in 2015? (Hot new projects part 2)

We’re not quite sure why you’d need to know that, but if you owned a solar power station you’d be very interested in the weather forecast in 2015 we assure you!

Clouds have a huge impact on solar power. In fact, photovoltaic generation can drop by up to 60 per cent in seconds when a cloud passes over the solar panels.

Cloudy days will always be around but forecasting systems enable us to plan for them and use storage and other techniques to provide a reliable electricity supply. Image: istock

Cloudy days will always be around but forecasting systems enable us to plan for them and use storage and other techniques to provide a reliable electricity supply. Image: istock

Last year CSIRO released a world first report on this cloudy issue; we recognised that intermittency (cloud covering up the sun) is a major barrier to development of large-scale solar energy power plants and recommended that a solar forecasting system would help solve the issue.

Why is it such a big deal? For two major reasons: the grid and investor confidence.

The electricity grid requires a stable, consistent supply of electricity otherwise the grid becomes very difficult to manage and things like blackouts can occur. Intermittent renewable sources such as wind and solar can be a tricky energy source – naturally they do not generate a consistent supply of energy. However, through forecasting we can predict the amount of solar power that will be generated over days, weeks and even years. In this way the grid network can plan ahead and build in the solar power to the general supply.

Investors aren’t going to invest in commercial-scale solar power until we can predict their energy yield, which is directly affected by intermittency, or the amount of clouds passing overhead. Map the clouds and you map the yield, which then gives investors a much better idea of the bang they get for their buck.

So there’s the problem… now for the solution! That’s where our $7.6 million forecasting project comes in.

Australian solar energy forecasting system (ASEFS)

Announced in mid December 2012 by the Australian Solar Institute (now ARENA), this project is huge. CSIRO and partners; the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), Bureau of Meteorology, University of NSW, University of South Australia, US National Renewable Energy Laboratory, will together change the future of large-scale solar in Australia, we have no doubt!

We will be using cloud forecasting techniques and data from across Australia to provide accurate solar forecasts ranging from the next five minutes up to seven days. In addition, we will be able to provide power plants with solar predictions for up to two years in advance. Imagine knowing the weather report two years in advance!

The expert running the project is CSIRO’s Dr Peter Coppin. He was also involved in CSIRO’s wind forecasting work a few years back. We asked him a couple of questions about ASEFS:

What are you most looking forward to with this project?

The most exciting aspect of this project is bringing the best possible solar forecasting to the Australian electricity system. It means we will be able to have much more solar power on the grid that we would otherwise been able to host.

What are the benefits of working with a number of partners?

This project has been able to bring together the best scientists from Australia, USA and Germany to work with the system engineers who can actually make the clever developments happen. Together we will build the world’s most advanced operational solar forecasting system.

Check out the other blog posts on our Hot New Projects, or click here for the full list. All the projects are funded by the United States-Australia Solar Energy Collaboration.


2 Comments on “Will it be cloudy on my birthday in 2015? (Hot new projects part 2)”

  1. John says:

    Interesting topic. I wonder if this will have applications for residential solar in Australia? I found some German companies already have solar storage batteries available so that (potentially) solar energy can be stored , when not required by the home, and used at night – the big ‘downfall’ of solar. Would this solar forecasting system be beneficial to the power utilities trying to plan for the amount of solar energy sent onto their networks from home solar systems? The amount of solar electricity supplied to the grid is huge now with over 1 million homes in Australia now having solar installed. This forecasting technology would surely be of benefit to the power utilities who would have advanced warnings as to the expected amount of solar electricity exported onto their power networks.
    Will follow with interest

    • Sally Crossman says:

      On behalf of Solar@CSIRO

      The Australian solar energy forecasting system (ASEFS) will look at forecasting the increasing amount of solar energy being produced by rooftop solar PV.

      This appears to the system operator as ‘negative demand’, i.e. power which the householders are generating and consuming themselves and which does not need to be supplied by the utilities.

      The ASEFS would predict the time at which the rooftop PV would be producing power and reducing demand.

      Storage attached to the household PV systems complicates this picture by allowing the householder or business to shift the energy to be used at a time of their choosing, such as a high tariff time or to avoid putting it back into the grid at a relatively low price.

      This is a significant new challenge to the forecasters – predicting how much and when small storage systems will be used!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s